The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited the nation’s conversation around health care and the role of the health care industry. COVID-19 has forced providers to find new ways to reach at-risk populations, such as offering telehealth services. But it’s too soon to tell whether these adaptations will stick after social distancing measures ease.
Gracelyn McDermott (MBA ’01), executive director, account management at Kaiser Permanente, oversees many such changes and innovations at one of the largest nonprofit health care providers and insurers in the U.S.
In the following Q&A, McDermott describes how the health care industry is adapting to COVID-19 and offers advice for small business owners navigating health care compliance.
Q: How do you anticipate the health care industry will change from COVID-19? What are you doing to prepare for those changes?
GRACELYN MCDERMOTT: Telehealth is making a difference and, given the high level of patient satisfaction we’ve experienced, we anticipate that many patients will want to continue to access care this way. The outbreak of COVID-19 led Kaiser Permanente to vastly expand our virtual care services across the region. To allow our members to stay at home if they want, and to increase the number of patients we can treat, Kaiser Permanente is offering more video and phone visits to increase member access to ambulatory care. Allowing people to stay home and still get great care will also help address the community spread of COVID-19 and ease the global shortage of personal protective equipment – masks, gowns, and gloves.
What’s great about our model of telehealth is that we aren’t outsourcing any aspects of it. The same physicians that deliver in-person care on a day-to-day basis are the same that are delivering telehealth. In essence, this was a turn-key solution for us.
Q: Could COVID-19 change the types of health care plans employers want to offer?
A: Telehealth, which was a low utilized service, is now becoming mainstream – and that’s going to impact the future of care delivery and associated costs. It’s probable that we could see more offerings that tout a “virtual first” health plan offering.
In addition, an employer who needs to reduce premiums as a means to balance the budget might find that a Consumer Directed Health Plan offering would be a viable option – whether large or small. These plans use high deductibles coupled with tax advantage personal Health Spending Accounts to increase consumer accountability for their own health care spending. CDHPs can save costs; and we certainly recommend them for both our small and large businesses that are budget conscious. However, they are only a viable option if there is price transparency that allows the consumer to access care at an affordable price; otherwise all you get is employees who avoid care and potentially end up paying out more for the delay.
Q: What advice would you give to small business owners struggling to navigate health care compliance right now?
A: My team is having conversations with small business owners on a daily basis. The first action that we took was to communicate early that we are here to work with them and to provide them with clarifying information about the coronavirus and steps that were needed to stay safe. It’s important for small business owners to have the facts and to consistently refer to reliable sources such as CDC.gov.
As we move to create a “new normal,” we will need to continue to address the impact this pandemic has had on our minds, bodies, and spirits. Even before COVID-19 struck, the American Heart Association reported that three in four employees have struggled with an issue that affected their mental health. Well, now 100 percent of employees have struggled because we have all been impacted in one way or another by this pandemic.
Mental health issues can be a huge business impact which often manifests itself in lost work days and lost productivity. When you are trying to claw back towards a positive revenue position, you don’t want to start out with disengaged workers. With this in mind, at the end of the day, navigating health care compliance should not be a struggle. It should be used as a foundational element, or strategy, to help grow and sustain a business.